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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Five Years Closer to Hell 


We are reminded (by our jocular colleague J. Schwarz, among others) that today marks the fifth anniversary of Colin Powell's infamous speech before the U.N., in which the former Secretary of State waved a vial containing an ounce and a half of Sweet 'n' Low at the cameras and thereby convinced a covey of credulous American pundits -- and perhaps a couple of foreign leaders, neither of whom spoke much English -- that it would be a simply ripping idea to invade Baghdad at a modest cost of several trillion American dollars and something in the vicinity of a million Iraqi lives. It is of course a foregone conclusion that the General will, for his misdeeds, spend the balance of eternity roasting in hell, but there is an ongoing and vigorous debate as to which portion of Satan's fiery realm Powell will eventually inhabit, and what sort of excruciation he should expect once he arrives. While we claim no expertise in matters theological, we are blessed to know quite a few self-styled scholars in the field, and so we wasted no time putting in a phone call to our two favorite bookies, Virgil and Dante of North Beach, who were only too happy to give us the current Vegas odds on Gen. Powell's ultimate destination. Your Best Bets as of today, Feb. 5, 2008:

Seventh Circle, Outer Ring: One of the nicer neighborhoods in hell, where perpetrators of violence against their neighbors wade endlessly in a boiling river of blood. (The depth of the river varies with the perfidy of the dead souls' crimes.) Those who stray from the herd are skewered, from above, by centaurs wielding bows and arrows.
I saw some who were sunk up to their brows,
and that huge Centaur said, "These are the tyrants
who plunged their hands in blood and plundering.
Here they lament their ruthless crimes; here are
both Alexander and the fierce Dionysius,
who brought such years of grief to Sicily . . . .
"Just as you see that on this side, the brook
continually thins," the Centaur said,
"so I should have you know the rivulet,
along the other side, will slowly deepen
its bed, until it reaches once again
the depth where tyranny must make lament.
And there divine justice torments Atilla,
he who was such a scourge upon the earth,
and Pyrrhus, Sextus; to eternity
it milks the tears that boiling brook unlocks . . . . "
Odds: While Powell has a lot of blood on his hands, we don't see him in the same class as Alexander and Atilla; he's more of a functionary, the Hannah Arendt banality-of-evil type. We won't be surprised, however, if he does spot several of his bosses neck-deep in the big bloody as the harpies whisk him off to Circle Eight or Nine. In other words, a definite longshot; we make it 10-1.

Eighth Circle, Bolgia #5: The malebolge are the "evil pockets" of hell, and Bolgia #5 is where you will find crooked politicians, immersed, appropriately enough, in hot tar:
The sinner plunged, then surfaced, black with pitch;
but now the demons, from beneath the bridge,
shouted, "The sacred face has no place here;
here we swim differently than in the Serchio;
if you don't want to feel our grappling hooks,
don't try to lift yourself above that ditch."
They pricked him with a hundred prongs and more,
then taunted: "Here one dances under cover,
so try and grab your secret graft below."
The demons did the same as any cook
who has his urchins force the meat with hooks
deep down into the pot, that it not float.
Odds: Okay, he's a politician, of sorts, and he's deeply corrupt, but not in the traditional graft 'n' bribery sense. We think his main sins lie elsewhere. 8-1.

Eighth Circle, Bolgia #8: The pit in which fraudulent counselors dwell as ambulatory fireballs, not unlike Johnny Storm of Fantastic Four renown, minus the wisecracks. Here Guido da Montefeltro explains how he came to be a Human Torch:
"I was a man of arms, then wore the cord,
believing that, so girt, I made amends . . . .
While I still had the form of bones and flesh
my mother gave to me, my deeds were not
those of the lion but those of the fox.
The wiles and secret ways -- I knew them all
and so employed their arts that my renown
had reached the very boundaries of earth . . . .
The prince of the new Pharisees, who then
was waging war so near the Lateran --
so this one sought me out as his instructor,
to ease the fever of his arrogance.
He asked me to give counsel. I was silent --
his words had seemed to me delirious.
And then he said: 'Your heart must not mistrust:
I now absolve you in advance -- teach me
to batter Penestrino to the ground.
You surely know that I possess the power
to lock and unlock heaven; for the keys
my predecessor did not prize are two.'
Then his grave arguments compelled me so
my silence seemed a worse offense than speech,
and I said: 'Since you cleanse me of the sin
that I must now fall into, Father, know:
long promises and very brief fulfillments
will bring a victory to your high throne.'"
Odds: Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket! What can we possibly add to that?? Bolgia #8 rates no worse than even money.

Eighth Circle, Bolgia #9: Home to sowers of dissension and scandal.
And then, were one to show his limb pierced through
and one his limb hacked off, that would not match
the hideousness of the ninth abyss.
No barrel, even though it's lost a hoop
or end-piece, ever gapes as one whom I
saw ripped right from his chin to where we fart:
his bowels hung between his legs, one saw
his vitals and the miserable sack
that makes of what we swallow excrement . . . .
"Behind us here, a devil decks us out
so cruelly, re-placing every one
of this throng underneath the sword-edge when
we've made our way around the road of pain,
because our wounds have closed again before
we have returned to meet his blade once more."
That's Mohammed talking. Nearby we meet Bertram dal Bornio, who "gave bad counsel to the fledgling king," and is condemned to carry, by the hair, his own severed head, swinging it lantern-like as he walks.

Odds: Powell fits nicely here but the punishment strikes us as a little on the mild side. Call it 5-1.

Which brings us to:

Ninth Circle, Zone #2: Antenora, where those who betray their countries are encased in frozen ice up to the neck.
Each kept his face bent downward steadily;
their mouths bore witness to the cold they felt,
just as their eyes proclaimed their sorry hearts.
In Antenora, the traitors are despised -- even by other traitors:
We had already taken leave of him,
when I saw two shades frozen in one hole
so that one's head served as the other's cap;
and just as he who's hungry chews his bread,
one sinner dug his teeth into the other
right at the place where brain is joined to nape:
no differently had Tydeus gnawed the temples
of Menalippus, out of indignation,
than this one chewed the skull and other parts.
Then they all wrote their memoirs.

Odds: There's a case to be made here, and although it might gladden our hearts to see Powell called out as a traitor by the Eternal Judge, you know the old saying: bookies love a sentimental bettor. We'll give you 12-7 on Ninth Circle, Zone #2, but the smart money -- namely our money -- is on Eighth Circle, Bolgia #8. Which by the way just went from even money to 3-5.

Gentlemen, place your bets!

(Italicized passages above are taken from the Allen Mandelbaum translation of Dante's
Inferno, published by the University of California Press. ©1980 by Allen Mandelbaum. All rights reserved.)

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